As if the global financial meltdown is not enough to worry us, there has been ethnic rampage in the mixed city of Acco. What started on Yom Kippur as a street corner incident has ignited concern throughout the country.
Yom Kippur is a time when Israeli Jews leave their vehicles at home. The roads are empty, except for the occasional police car or ambulance, and hoards of youngsters who congregate on the main streets and ride bicycles, skate boards, roller blades, and scooters. Where Arab neighborhoods abut Jewish neighborhoods, the police may erect temporary barriers to direct non-Jewish traffic toward other roads.
The trouble started in the evening that began Yom Kippur. An Arab, said by some to be drunk, and playing his car radio at full volume, drove into a Jewish neighborhood. A confrontation spread to stone throwing between Jews and Arabs, and several cases of burning the apartments of Arabs living in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods.
The police have arrived in mass, along with national politicians, but the violence has continued for three nights.
Politicians and religious leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide have urged restraint. Other politicians and religious leaders have contributed their voices to incitement. Imams have urged their followers to gather knives and guns, and prepare for an active defense. According to one rumor, the Arab who began the problem with his car and music was killed on the spot by a Jewish mob. He seemed healthy when interviewed on Israeli television a day later.
The head rabbi of Acco rejected a letter from Muslim religious leaders denouncing the driver whose actions ignited the fracas, with the statement that "It is impossible to compare the responses of the Jews to the desecration of the holy day by the Arabs." http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//1359292 Israeli media have broadcast interviews with Jews and Arabs talking about their inter-ethnic friendships and calling for peace, as well as members of both communities calling for blood. A Muslim cleric from outside Acco who has been in trouble several times for inciting violence has not let this opportunity pass. Hamas leaders in Gaza see this as yet another opportunity to enflame the entire Middle East.
Acco (or Acre) is a city of about 50,000, a few miles north of Haifa, with an ancient port that has figured in the histories of the biblical period, the Crusades, an effort of Napoleon to invade the area, and the early history of the Bahai faith. Its Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts tourists to its shops, restaurants, alleys, and sea-side citadel. The current population is about one-third Arab and two-thirds Jewish. The averages on income, education, and other social indicators are lower than in the country as a whole. http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=4703
The immediate concern is to prevent a jumping of the flames from Acco to other mixed cities. Haifa is the closest. Also vulnerable are Upper Nazareth, originally a Jewish city built on the heights above the Arab city of Nazareth, but now with an Arab population as well; Jaffa alongside Tel Aviv; Ramle and Lod a few miles east of Tel Aviv; Hebron; and of course Jerusalem.
The tensions are most delicate in mixed neighborhoods. Especially tense are Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem where intensely religious and nationalist Jewish families have been moving into buildings purchased by patrons from overseas. In recent years, Jewish neighborhoods in the north of the city have attracted Arab families that earlier left their crowded neighborhoods for areas outside the city. Now they have sought to avoid the problems of the newly constructed security barricade by moving back into the city.
Our own neighborhood of French Hill is one of the northern sites becoming mixed. It is close to the university, and for several years has attracted Arab as well as Jewish students who rent apartments. More recently Arab families have bought apartments.
Some of our neighbors have expressed strong opposition to the influx of Arabs, urging action to "halt the flood." One neighbor proposed using a vicious dog to chase young Arab children from a playground.
Arab teenagers come out of the nearby neighborhood of Isaweea to gather at intersections and wander the neighborhood after dark. Jews charge that decent people fear strolling in the evening. Arabs also root around in the trash dumpsters looking for useful items, and may scatter the material they do not want on the street and sidewalk.
In so far as the neighborhood has a high incidence of highly educated and politically correct professionals, the potential for conflict may not develop here. Some of our long time neighbors welcome the diversity, and have been pleased to indicate that the local primary school contains Arab children, along with Koreans, Chinese, and non-Jewish Europeans children of university students or diplomats. It is charming to look out from our balcony and see Beduin shepherds with their goats and sheep in a field of Isaweea only across the street.
Others say "So far so good," but warn of problems if the number of Arab families grows substantially. Some are just as much opposed to the influx of ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. The nearby neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol has become largely ultra-Orthodox, producing a flight of secular Jews looking for areas that accept driving on the Sabbath, and women who dress less modestly than demanded by the ultra-Orthodox. French Hill may be next to witness the flight of secular Jews.
We feel secure, but this is not a time for complacency. The tinder is dry, and not far away.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
On account of spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. Comments are welcome at my personal e-mail address.Posted by Ira Sharkansky at October 12, 2008 03:45 AM